Festival 66: Death and Rebirth

Autumn is a bittersweet time, as Paul Verlaine’s “Chanson d’automne” (“Autumn song”) suggests. This new short by British filmmaker Rachel Laine appropriately focuses on trees, the most iconic emblems of the changing season. The poem concludes:

And I go
Where the winds know,
Broken and brief,
To and fro,
As the winds blow
A dead leaf.

(See Moving Poems for a complete English translation.)

Heading into winter in the northern hemisphere, a deciduous forest can seem a barren place. By November, most of the songbirds have returned to their home in the tropics, and the trees appear lifeless without their leaves. But the open, light-filled woods can also provoke a new-found appreciation for arboreal forms. At Tor Falcon: Diary of a Wild Place, a disrobed maple strikes the artist as a naked goddess. In other parts of the world, it may be bark that sheds, as Lucy at Loose and Leafy found:

The bark is peeling from them all. I’m startled by the red. Shiny and wet in the autumn rain, the exposed wood looks like flesh.

Late fall and winter is a great time to learn to appreciate bark patterns and identify trees on that basis alone, as Georgia reminds us at local ecologist with some stunning photos and quotes from Alice Munro. Then again, some folks seem determined to try to improve on nature — or at least augment it, as in this photo from a Russian-language blog of what I can only call a tree cosy:

tree cosy

Of course, if trees didn’t shed their leaves in snowy regions, it would be a disaster, as we learned this year in the northeastern United States. A heavy October snowstorm brought down huge numbers of trees and limbs due to the additional weight of snow on all those leaves, and in many areas it took much of November to clean up. The Natural Lands Trust blog gives a good idea of what things were like in eastern Pennsylvania:

The more we look, the more damage we find. We benefitted today from the volunteer efforts of two classes of WebWalkers who spent time scouting damage on the trails and picking up branches. The remaining effort involves chainsaws and power pole pruners.

Some more observations: if you were unlucky enough to plant “Bradford” callery pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’) you have found out one reason you shouldn’t plant it: its weak crotches are doomed to fail, and since it’s such a formally-shaped tree it looks tragically misshapen when it loses a branch. (The other reason not to plant it is that it can be invasive.) Tuliptrees, known for shedding branches, did not fare too poorly, since they had already dropped their leaves when the heavy snow fell. Silver maple, known for weak wood and still in leaf, shattered extensively.

That was on November 3. On November 17, they were still cleaning up along roads.

It’s useful to remember, however, that many of the disasters that befall trees and forests are preventable, given sufficient political will. I was astonished to learn about a 1.5-acre rooftop garden in downtown New York City, the Washington Square Village Sasaki Garden, which has been flourishing since 1959! Predictably, the forces of evil are trying to destroy it to make room for more office towers. A new photo essay by Edward Walters and Hubert J. Steed documents its arboreal richness and diversity, including London planetrees, hawthorns, dogwoods, redbud, a weeping willow and more.

From the Street Tree blog in London I learned this month about a secret orchard in Islington and the efforts underway to save it from development. Even in economic hard times and with a depressed housing market, tree defenders have to stay on their toes, it seems.

Street trees are indeed worth saving, both for urban wildlife and for human psychological health. In Berlin, Dorothee Lang often finds occasion to meditate on life as a journey with trees, as she did this month with a pair of short videos going towards a tree and from a tree.

In a similar vein, I recently ran across a meditation and poem by William Heyen called “Sycamore and Ash,” on the subject of what trees know and how they inhabit the world. It begins:

If the sycamore on my front lawn were able to speak, & did, I would not understand.
I would not understand this sycamore speech not because all the world’s translators could not help me, not because of a failure of translation, but because I would be, as I am so far in my common life, unable to find anything that would translate into speech itself. The sycamore’s would be pure presence, the natural act of soul undivided from itself, a wholeness of essence, a fused utterance, while I attempted, in effect, to find a meaningful cipher for the vowel of a single leaf. A sycamore sheds bark as I shed hair & skin, is a creature of soil & water & sunlight as I am, but if it spoke I would be in the aura of speech speaking, & my ego, which insists on equivalents & rational mind, would be shocked & baffled.

Sometimes, paradoxically, clearcutting (or clearfelling, as they evidently call it in the UK) is the best thing you can do for a forest. When I visited Wales and England last spring, I was shocked by how few true forests I saw — and how many plantations of North American conifers. Such fake forests are damn near useless for native wildlife, of course. So I was heartened to read about a “woodland restructuring” on treeblog. Amidst the devastation from the felling of the plantation, Ash located some real treasures, including an ancient alder and holly keeping each other company.

In a true forest, even-age stands tend to be pretty rare. Instead, we find death, decay and regrowth intermingled almost everywhere we look, as on this walk among “Sunday Trees” at Ravens Press blog.

Sometimes death and decay are not only necessary, but downright delicious, as with the fruit of the medlar tree, which isn’t edible until it’s way past ripe. November saw Lucy at Box Elder meddling with medlars, while on the other side of the English channel, RR of Twisted Rib blogged a scholarly and somewhat scandalous disquisition on bletting the open arse.

On the mountain in central Pennsylvania where I live, the oaks took a long time to shed their leaves this year. But by Thanksgiving, the trees were bare and ready to be climbed and sat in for the next two weeks by deer hunters. And without deer hunters the forest would slowly disappear, for no new growth would ever be able to fill in the holes created when old trees die and fall.

three deer in snowy woods

For the Festival of the Trees, too, it is time for old growth to give way to new. Over the past year we’ve seen other nature blog carnivals go silent as fewer people blogged and more of their energy went to online social networks. Here at FOTT we’ve seen fewer volunteers come forward to host, and while I’m sure if we were more aggressive about recruiting likely hosts we could keep it going in its present form for a while longer, Jade and I have decided instead to recognize reality: that unfortunately the blog carnival idea never really caught on outside of the political blogosphere, and that increasingly fragmented online attention spans make it less and less likely that people will read all the way through a monthly edition and click on all the links.

Our solution is not to quit, however, but to completely re-think our strategy. We’ve decided therefore to transition from a monthly blog carnival into a community aggregator site for tree-related blog posts.

In other words, the Festival will no longer travel or have issues/editions; it will stay here, all the time. As you may have noticed, I’ve registered the domain Treeblogging.com (though all the old links to festivalofthetrees.wordpress.com will still work) and I think that’ll be the name of this site from now on unless anyone has a better suggestion. Stay tuned for more posts on how this will work in the days ahead, but in brief, all links should now be submitted through our online form. I or other volunteers — and let me know if you’d like to be on that team — will review the links for relevance and noncommercial content and post them here soon thereafter, with a quote and/or photo from the linked post to excite reader interest.

Make sure to follow this site so you won’t miss a link. You can subscribe by email using the form in the sidebar; follow us on Twitter (and notice the change in our account, from @treebloggers to @treeblogging); or “like” our brand-new Facebook page. The Festival of the Trees archive will remain in the sidebar for a little while and then move to a dedicated page, with a permanent link on the navigation bar.

Thanks to everyone who has participated and supported the Festival over the past five years. I hope you’ll keep blogging about trees and forests and sending in your links. With your help, the online tree-blogging community here may flourish like never before.

About Dave Bonta

I'm the author of several books of poetry, including Ice Mountain: An Elegy, Breakdown: Banjo Poems, and Odes to Tools, but my real work is at my long-running literary blog Via Negativa, where I'm currently creating erasure poems from every entry of the Diary of Samuel Pepys. I'm also the editor and publisher of Moving Poems, a blog showcasing the best poetry videos on the web.

Posted on December 1, 2011, in Festival of the Trees edition. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. im so glad that the festival is not ‘dead’ but has merely taken on a new avatar! thank you!

  2. Thanks for the post Dave! Some really fascinating links.

  3. oh…. i’ve been absent for various reasons since summer…. it took me a little while to suss out what was happening here! Mmmm…. congratulations on what has been wonderful to be a part of for a while, at least. Guess this is just moving into another season…. sorry i missed the last festival, but thanks for all you have done/are doing & look forward to this incarnation!

  1. Pingback: Farewell, Festival of the Trees. Hello, Treeblogging.com. | Via Negativa

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